CHAUCER’S ART OF CHARACTERIZATION – THE ENGLISH ACADEMY HAFIZABAD

CHAUCER’S ART OF CHARACTERIZATION

CHAUCER’S ART OF CHARACTERIZATION

 
 
GEOFFREY CHAUCER is an artist who paints the real picture gallery of English nation during the fourteenth century. Art is the skill of creating objects such as paintings and drawings, especially when you study it. According to ‘A Dictionary of English Language and Literature’ which defines art as:
“Subjects of study primarily concerned with the processes and products of human creativity and social life, such as languages, literature, and history”.
And Art of Characterization is the way that a writer makes characters in a book, play or poetry seem real. According to ‘A Dictionary of Literary Terms’ by MARTIN GRAY, which defines it as:
“The way in which a writer creates characters in a narrative so as to attract or repel our sympathy”
As for as CHAUCER’s art of characterization is concerned, he outlines his thirty pilgrims in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”.  His Prologue is a real picture gallery in which thirty portraits are hanging on the wall with all of their details and peculiarities. He is the first great painter of characters in English Literature. He paints the whole of English nation during the fourteenth century, ranging from knightly class to the order of Clergymen. The Character sketches are brief, yet lucid and comprehensive. Both the in and out of the characters are depicted in such a superb way that the entire personality seems moving before the reader’s eyes. It infects CHAUCER’s uniquely rich and original art of characterization that has enabled him to delineate memorable portraits. For the purpose, he employs several techniques of characterization, some of whom were popular among the contemporaries, while the others are purely his own.
One of the major techniques of characterization which was current in the medieval authors was the use of humour. This term divides personalities according to the predominance of one of the elements-fire, water, air and earth. For example, his character is dominated by the humour of blood, which on its turn is understood to produce a large appetite and pleasure in physical satisfaction. Thus, the entire portrait of the Franklin is just an elaboration of a single phrase “Sanguine”:
“Of his complexioun he was sangwyn / Wel loved he by the morwe a sop in wyn.” ( lines 335-36)
 
Similarly, the medieval poets usually describe their character through their physiognomy (the shape and features of a person’s face), to expose their inner spiritual health. CHAUCER has successfully employed this technique in the case of the Summoner. His “Fire red cherubim face”, “Pimples”, “Narrow eyes” and “scabby black brows” reflect his inner spiritual corruption:
“That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face / For sauce fleem he was, with eyen narwe.” ( lines 426-27)
Description through physical features is also employed in the case of The Wife of the Bath and The Prioress. He talks about the dressing of The Prioress in these lines:
“Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was……Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war.”  ( lines 151 and 157)
And also says about The Wife of the Bath in these lines:
“Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed / Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.” ( lines 458-59)
Closely connected with this is CHAUCER’s technique of character portrait through dress. As A.C. WARD asserts:
“CHAUCER’s characters are not mere phantoms of the brain but real human beings and types true to the likeness of whole classes of men and women.”
It also helps the audience in understanding, recognizing and differentiating the pilgrims. The Prioress and The Wife of Bath’s fashionable dresses reveal their materialism and amorous nature. Admittedly, CHAUCER varies his presentation from the full-length portraits to the thumbnail sketch.
CHAUCER’s most superb technique is his presentation of Characters as individuals and types. The Characters are not only representatives of their respective classes and professions but also at the same time they possess individual traits. For example, The Friar is a typical representative of his class in the 14th century; he is corrupt, hypocritical, greedy and callous. But his good voice, his twinkling eyes, his white neck and above all his name “Brother Hubert” all have individualistic touches. The Knight stands for heroism and manliness that good knight would always show on the battlefield. But he has been individualized by his prudence, jerkin of fustian and all good horse:
“Of fustian he wered a gypon /Al bismotered with his habergeon.” ( lines 75-76)
His son, The Squire stands for the type of a merry youth, interested in singing and playing upon the flute. He has also been individualized by his curly hair, his embroidered clothes and his short coat with long sleeves:
“Embrouded was he, as it were a meede……..Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde.” ( lines 89 and 93)
The Prioress is the type of a woman who is an epicure but she is portrayed as an individual, with her meticulous care in eating and her courtly manners as well as care in eating and her courtly manners as well as her tenderness of heart. The Monk is the type of Monks of those-times interested not in religion and the study of holy books, but in hunting:
“Of prikying and of huntying for the hare / Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare” ( lines 191-92 )
But CHAUCER’s Monk is an individual with a bald head and rolling eyes, glowing like the fire under a cauldron. The Oxford Clerk is the type of good scholars, not interested in worldly glory, but in the advancement of knowledge and learning. But CHAUCER’s Oxford Clerk comes as a figure of the individual, by his learning, his hollow-cheeks, grave look and his threadbare cloak. CHAUCER’s lawyer seems typical of our own day when he says:
“Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas / And yet he semed bisier than he was.” ( lines 323-324)
In short CHAUCER’s characters are types as well as individuals.
CHAUCER’s characters are real and universal because no one is like them, and they are real and universal because they are so like us. As WILLIAM BLAKE asserts about the characters of CHAUCER’s Pilgrims:
“The characters of CHAUCER’s Pilgrims are the characters which compose all ages and nations.” 
His people are always on move. Never do they become shadowy or lifeless. They shout and swear, laugh and weep, interrupt the storyteller, pass compliments and in general behave themselves, as we might expect to be.
Another portrait delineation technique which CHAUCER uses is to define the characters to a great or lesser extent by the job or profession, they do. The deferent pilgrims represent different professions. The War-like Elements is represented by the Knight, The Square, and Yeoman. As Knight:
“And foughten for oure faith at Tramyssene / In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo.” ( lines 62-63)
The Ploughman, The Miller, the Reeve, and The Franklin typify agriculture. The Sargent of Law, the Doctor, The Oxford Clerk represent liberal professions. The Wife of Bath, The weaver, The Dyer and The Tapicer, embody industry and trade, the Merchant and the Shipman personate commerce. The poor Village person and the Summoner represent the secular clergy, while the monastic order is represented by the Monk, The Prioress and the Pardoner.
CHAUCER also presents a vivid picture of his characters by their vices and presents the fourteenth century in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”. TIM BRINK writes:
“We receive such an exact idea of the men he (CHAUCER) is describing that we can almost see them bodily before our eyes.”
 Firstly, the prevalent corruption of the Church is mirrored in most of his ecclesiastical figures, like The Friar, The Monk, The Pardoner. Secondly, the greed of doctors is typified in his Doctor of Physic, who loves gold. Thirdly, his Sergeant of Law is as shrewd hard-boiled as other members of his profession. Fourthly, the dishonesty of the Reeve and the Miller is also typical. Finally, their traditional enmity is reflected between the Reeve and the Miller. This technique enriches his art of characterization
Irony and Satire are undoubtedly CHAUCER’s most prominent techniques of characterization. CHAUCER treats noble fellows with sympathy and love but his treatment of knaves, rogues and rascals either humorous or ironical or satirical. For example, CHAUCER call the Wife of Bath worthy woman” and then in the very next line ironically qualifies the word “worthy” by commenting:
“She was a worthy womman al hir lyve / Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde five.” ( lines 461-62)
But it remains to be noted that though he depicts most of his characters ironically and humorously yet tolerance and sympathy never lose CHAUCER’s attention. The characters whom he detests and censures are the two corrupt church offices, the Summoner and The Pardoner. It is in case of these two characters that CHAUCER employs satire as a technique of characterization. The goodness of the “Gentle rascal” becomes clear when he comments that just for a quart of wine he would allow a sinner to keep on committing sins.
CHAUCER utilizes the technique of contrast in drawing the portraits of the pilgrims. The good and the bad rub shoulders together. We have the paragon of virtue in the characters of The Parson and The Ploughman, we have monsters of vice in the characters of The Reeve, The Miller and the Summoner. The Knight is a foil to his son, the lusty Squire. As CHAUCER writes about The knight in this line:
“Ful worthy was, he in his lords were.” ( line 47)
And also asserts about The Squire in this line:
“A lovyere and a lusty bachelor.” ( line 80)
The Oxford Clerk is the very opposite of the merrymaking Monk. In this way, CHAUCER distinguishes the characters through the exhibition of dissimilar qualities.
CHAUCER’s art of characterization is free from personal bias. He portrays his characters, objectively, impartially and disinterestedly. He depicts what he sees personally. He has the Seeing Eye, the memory, the judgment to select and the capacity to expound. LEGIOUS CAZAMIAN rightly says:
“Of all writers of genius, CHAUCER is the one with whom it is easiest to have a sense of comradeship.”
To sum up, it can be accepted that CHAUCER’s art of characterization is the picture gallery of the 14th century and he is the first great painter of characters in English Literature. Therefore, two conclusions may be drawn from the above discussion of Chaucer’s art of Characterization. Firstly, his world of man is varied and wide. In the words of DRYDEN:
“There is God’s plenty.”

And secondly, it is through the depiction of his characters, CHAUCER has managed to give an expression to his vision of life which is both joyous and realistic. In fact, in many respects his characters are like human beings because they possess universal human traits, therefore, appeal to the modern reader though they belong to the medieval age.

Moreover, his character is three dimensional: having length, breadth and depth. He gradually unfolds his characters giving us a clear image of their personalities and making the gradual revelation quite interesting. He is, perhaps, warmed by people who live fully and share their lives with others people who are richly human even if they are flawed. In short, Chaucer’s success in the character delineation lies in the versatility of his characters, objectively of his style, immensely sharp and receptive mind and above all the comprehension of human nature in all its complexities.
 
 
 
 
References
«    Current Notes Guide for ‘ Classical Poetry’, Latest Edition,  Published by New Kitab Mahal
«    Textbook of The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales’, Latest Edition 2015-16,  Published by ‘New Kitab Mahal’ < NKM >
«    A Dictionary of English Language and Literature
«    A Dictionary of Literary Terms, Second Edition by MARTIN GRAY
«    Various Education Websites for Online Search

 

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2 comments

Unknown March 30, 2021 - 5:17 pm
From my point of view this information is good.
subwaysubfers March 30, 2021 - 5:17 pm
I am interested in such topics so I will address page where it is cool described. art for walls
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